What follows below is an entry about myself that I put together in March '08 (at the request of my US publishers!) for the SF wiki site SCIFIPEDIA.COM. You can read the scifipedia entry here but it may have been altered by now! Here's what I originally wrote (and thanks again, Jasmine!)
Sam Enthoven is a British author of fantastical action thrillers for eleven to fifteen-year-olds. For ten years he worked in a bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road - recommending books to people (and living largely off instant noodles) while chasing his dream of becoming published and his stories being read around the world.
Now that dream is coming true.
His debut novel The Black Tattoo was published in late 2006: that one contains swordfights, monsters, flying kung fu, vomiting bats and the end of the universe. His follow-up, Tim, Defender of the Earth, was published in early 2008: that contains giant monsters who battle it out for the fate of the world on (and frequently with-) the streets of London. Sam still lives in London, or what's left of it and he finds it a bit weird talking about himself in the third person.
Yes folks, it's me writing this entry! My US publishers (Razorbill) asked me to do it, to explain what I do. And the best way to do that, it seems to me, is if I show you a question that arrived in my email inbox recently (Jan '08) from one of my young readers. I've asked her permission to share it with you. She kindly agreed (thank you, Jasmine!) so here we go
"Hi! My name is Jasmine and I just wanted to say I LOVED your book The Black Tattoo. I've seen your website for it and I know that you said there probably won't be a movie but here's the thing... my age group (I'm 13 going on 14) don't like to read. All of my friends hate reading. A lot of kids think that reading is for losers. I don't stop reading because of this but I think that more kids would like this book if it was a movie. When my friends saw the cover of my book they said: "Oh, cool! That looks awesome!" so I said: "Really?! You can borrow it after I'm finished." So they said "No, its too long - if they make a movie I'll see it, though!" It's unbelievable! Kids in school are encouraged to read but they think it's boring meanwhile some of us (me) love to read! I would love to hear your reply. Thank you!"
Here's how I answered:
"Hi Jasmine! Thanks for getting in touch, and thank you SO much for your kind words about The Black Tattoo. I'm delighted you enjoyed it, but it's particularly kind of you to write and tell me so that's made my day!
Now: actually this point of yours about movies versus books is something I think about a lot.
I know exactly what you mean about people your age not liking reading: I hear it all the time (even to my face once or twice, from charming young blokes in the front row when I'm about to do a talk at their school - hee hee hee!) and it was exactly the same when I was thirteen to fourteen. In point of fact I don't think disliking reading is to do with age as such: if anything, the vast majority of adults are even worse about 'waiting for the movie'! But adults (parents, educators, the media) make more fuss about teenagers not liking reading and I suppose one can see why. It's because around that age is when one's reading habits (or more accurately for most, one's non-reading habits) tend to become set in stone for the rest of one's life.
Bluntly, the age-group I write for can be the last chance. If someone hasn't found the book(s) that make them love reading by then and most haven't then the odds are it's never going to happen. So why don't I make movies instead?
It's a good question, and there are a couple of different sides to it. I hope my reply doesn't come out too long! Here we go:
First, it's to do with control. Movies especially ones about the things I love, like monsters, swordfights and explosions, hee hee hee! (er, 'scuse me!) are, as I'm sure you know, incredibly expensive to make. I went to lunch with a film producer once: she told me that to make even a halfway decent live action movie of The Black Tattoo would cost one hundred and fifty million dollars at least. That's a fantastic amount of money to risk on something, if you think about it. But then, think about all the work involved: hundreds of people working on the special effects, the scenery, the design, the direction, the costumes, the sound let alone (in Black Tat's case) little things like finding at least two convincing fourteen-year-old actors who also happen to be incredible martial artists!
There's no way a studio will put that much money and work into something unless they're certain that it will be a massive success. But here's the thing: they can't be certain. They can only guess. And that's when they start to worry. Will anything in the story possibly worry or offend large chunks of a film's potential audience? Is the story really the right story, or should they change it? So they do change it sometimes for reasons like 'we can't have that in there, it'd be too expensive to film.'
With books, by contrast, I can do anything. The special effects budget is infinite, for a start! Books cost something to publish and produce, sure, but it's a fraction of what a movie costs, so they can contain all sorts of wild notions that you'd never be allowed to get away with in a big-budget Hollywood film. In short: the only limits are my imagination, and the challenge to write the best and most thrilling story I possibly can.
That's one good reason to write books. Another goes something like this: I love books!
OK: I also love movies, tv, comics, animation and games. I love all forms of storytelling. If I'm watching/ reading/ playing something I'm into, I'll forget to eat or sleep. I'm thinking about stories all the time, even in my dreams. But of all those forms, reading is the one I always come back to. It's the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing at night. I love words: the shapes of them; the intricate relationships between their meanings and the way they sound when you say them; the way they look together in a sentence. And I love how no matter how clearly, as a writer, you try to describe something every reader gets a picture or interpretation in their head that can be completely individual to them. Books scratch an itch other story-forms can't reach.
That's reason two, but now let's come back to the question of age. Why do I write books for the age-group I do?
Simple. It's because 11-15 was the age I learned to love books. Not especially because of anything I studied at school. But because that was the age I started picking them out for myself finding things I loved, and setting off on the lifetime quest to look for more. And yes, sometimes people gave me hassle about it. I think this is because reading is a solitary activity. For people who can't stand to be on their own people who always need to be in a group (which, let's fact it, is a big chunk of the human race!) reading a book can seem suspicious, or weird, or even disrespectful. But you know what? That's just unlucky for them! ;)
The idea that one of my stories might be the one that triggers someone's lifelong love of books in the way it happened to me that seems to me to be a pretty inspiring sort of goal to aim at. Writing books that are every bit as fast and thrilling and fun as other storytelling media is the way I'm trying to achieve this. Sure, there will always be people who say that books are boring, books are for losers, whatever. But the best way to do anything about that, it seems to me is to try as hard as I can to write exciting books.
Woah, Jasmine, this has turned out kind of long. Sorry about that! But your email really got me thinking, so I hope my reply is worth your while. Thanks again, and very best wishes to you,
And Jasmine's answer?
Thanks for your reply. I understand completely, and I hope you write more books for me to read!
You can find out more about me and my work at my portal page, www.samenthoven.com